“He was famous for leaving early sometimes,” said Mr. Appel, talking about Rizzuto. “Sometimes he would get up in the seventh inning and he’d say, ‘White, can I get you a cup of coffee?’ Then we wouldn’t see him until the next day and he’d walk in holding a cup of coffee and say, ‘Here’s your cup of coffee, White.’”
“You know, you have these people who keep these precious and immaculate scorecards,” he continued. “Then you’d look at Phil’s and it would be filled with the initials ‘WW,’ which stood for ‘wasn’t watching.’”
On Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, Ron Guidry, the team’s 1970’s star and the current pitching coach, recalled getting his famous nickname from Rizzuto.
“Rizzuto was the one who tagged Louisiana Lighting to me,” said Mr. Guidry. “I always used to tease Phil about having to sign that name because it has about 18 letters and then it takes about five minutes to finish signing it.”
As a player, Rizzuto was a master of fundamentals: an excellent bunter and fielder with a lightning-quick release. Despite being a small player with limited power at the plate, he won the 1950 American League MVP Award with a .324 average and 125 runs scored.
Red Sox deity Ted Williams reportedly said that if the Brooklyn-born Rizzuto had been on his team during the 1940’s and 50’s, the Sox would have won the pennant virtually every year instead of the Yankees.
His size and his unwavering geniality tended to make him the object of his teammates’ most ambitious jokes.
“He was the sort of guy that people loved to play pranks on,” said Mr. Golenbock. “One time when Phil was going to get married, he was in the minors, and the players held him down and painted his genitals with gentian violet with a blue dye, figuring when he made love with his wife for the first time, she would be wondering what this was all about.”
But there were occasions that were serious, even to Rizzuto.
“The only game we didn’t kid around was the 1978 playoff game,” said Mr. Healy, referring to a one-game playoff against the Red Sox. “He went out to talk about it before the game. He said, ‘Fran, this is the first time we’re not gonna fool around.’ That was probably the only game where I worked with Phil where we were serious as church.”
The Yankees won, capping a historic late-season comeback.
“We have great memories of Rizzuto-Healy, Rizzuto-White, Rizzuto-Seaver,” said Mr. Appel. “Then we realize what the common denominator is. That’s because he never brought an ego into the booth. He let the other person shine and he brought the best out in his partner. He was underrated as a player and he was underrated as a broadcaster too.”